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RE: [xmca] Educational neuroscience

Dear Colleagues,

Just a few clarifications about dialectical and historical materialism (diamat and [h]istmat). Dialectical materialism is about the study of natural world phenomena, while historical materialism is about social phenomena. There is not even a slightest hint in diamat that it studies things the way they should be. It is about the things the way they are.  If we search for a discipline that studies the dynamics of producing human artifacts, this is design theory. In some way, we can claim that historical materialism also studies the dynamics of producing human artifacts, although at a macro level, and at a very high level of abstraction. If we assume that social phenomena are artifacts, then we can claim that istmat is studying the dynamics of producing human artifacts. However, istmat has a very clear position about the dialectics of the natural foundations of the social processes and the human role (design, production of artifacts) in modifying the natural influences in these processes. The presumption is that social processes can also be treated as natural in the sense that to some degree they are beyond the influence by the will and the intent of the humans. There are a lot of publications about this dialectic. 

The concept of unit of analysis, although phrased differently in dia/hist mat, is a cornerstone of the research methodologies guided by this philosophy. 

Another important thing is that the way Marxist philosophy is discussed right now on this list, it evidently refers to the East European version -- dia/ist mat. We can even call it a Russian version because it was developed by the Russian social democrats before being institutionalized by the Bolsheviks as a Party ideology and as a state "religion." The West European versions of Marx' philosophy is developed very differently and its most important and well-known representatives are very different from the Russian school. I hope no one will try to find similarities between Walter Benjamin and any of the representatives of the Russian school, except at a very high level of abstraction. Actually, the West European Marxists were taboo in Soviet Union and some of the satellite states until the early 1980. Only then the Soviets started more often to translate Strauss, Benjamin, and Lukacs. Before that time, there were occasional translations in very low volumes, only for information of the higher echelon of philosophers.

Best wishes,


Lubomir Popov, Ph.D.
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
American Culture Studies Affiliated Faculty
Bowling Green State University
309 Johnston Hall,
Bowling Green, Ohio 43403-0059

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 9:42 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Educational neuroscience 

You cover such ground, Huw, and so many points of controversy, I cannot do justice in a brief reply. Let me make just a couple of points.
As a Marxist of 46 years' standing, so far as I know, it is only the current of thinking initiated by Vygotsky where "unit of analysis" is explicitly recognised in its central role. This is despite the fact that Marx used the concept in formulating "Capital" and learnt it from Hegel and Goethe. In Hegel it was alas too mystified to be widely understood and was never explicitly elaborated by Marx. There are just some suggestive passages here and there.

But, restricting ourselves to Marxism as known to Vygotsky, Ilyenkov, Davydov & Co., I don't believe the distinction you propose stands. It is true that the subject matter of Marxist study is human activity and activity constitutes the *substance* of Marx's philosophy, insofar as he did elaborate a "philosophy." Natural science is based on the assumption that the object of study exists independently of human activity but can be known through human activity. But I don't see that the idea of "unit of analysis" as a really-existing concept of the whole is something special to either human science or natural science. As a Marxist would understand it, it must always be a simple (abstract) concept. The idea did originate with Goethe after all, who saw it as part of the natural sciences.

As to Model. You are correct. I did not attempt in that post to deal with every issue. I am not quite sure about this concept. I think it is closer to the System Concept than Unit of Analysis. A model sets out the chief elements of the process and their forms of action and interaction, with the aim of approximating the system's behaviour. It could be an analogue. I am not sure, but perhaps "Model" is just not such a well-defined concept, and it simply lacks the sharp definition which we have of "system concept" and "unit of analysis"? But model does aim to describe the whole system and open it to analysis. It is not the idea of "model" that the Gestalt is a mass of realisations of the model, so far as I know.

When we are dealing with human life, there are always at least two levels of analysis, a molecular and a molar level. Analytical science does have difficulty, in my experience, with the idea of a molar unit (i.e. an activity), and yet one can never make sense of an action without knowing the activity which is serves. It is interesting your observation about "two systems of thought", psychological system and (?) concept or ideal. I am sure that human life could never be grasped without such competing concepts. All these ideas have their origin in Vygotsky and his collaborators, but he just did not live long enough to see them fully developed.

Only touched on what you have said, Huw.


Huw Lloyd wrote:
> Andy,
> As far as I am aware, the Marxian dialectical materialism addresses 
> dynamics of producing human artifacts and is not concerned with 
> natural phenomena as an object of study.
> You mentioned Model but did not figure this into your formulation.  
> The model seems necessary to distinguish the study of natural 
> phenomena (but we can, ofcourse model artificial phenomena too).  The 
> model is such an artifact which is "created" in the process of 
> studying the natural phenomena.
> A Marxian unit of analysis is required to be reducible to a single 
> basis (Marx, Davydov).  But there is no such requirement for natural 
> phenomena to reduce to a single basis, although I believe attempts 
> have been made to formulate this (e.g. negentropy).
> From the position of the natural scientists (with their models and
> experiments) there is no such deep need to identify the unit of 
> analysis in Marxian terms.  Rather, the natural scientist's "unit of 
> analysis" contributes toward the genetic understanding of the origins 
> of the natural phenomena studies, which is achieved through an 
> appreciation of the unfolding, interacting, systemic relations of 
> natural phenomena.  The "unit" under these circumstances is the system 
> of interest (system to the un-initiated is not easily defined).  But 
> it is also appreciated that a system is not isolated from all other 
> natural phenomena (which is in basic agreement with the materialist 
> conception of mind).
> This leaves us in the interesting position of having two complementary 
> systems of thought applicable to two related phenomena.
> 1. The image-ideal elaborated upon by Ilyenkov, Davydov etc, which 
> traces the genesis of the (artificial) concept.
> 2. The psychological system elaborated by Vygotsky, Luria etc, which 
> traces the changing (genesis) functional relations of the system in 
> support of these artificial concepts.
> The interaction of these two systems of thought yields further 
> considerations such as:
> 1. The tentative demarcation of a functional system of interest on the 
> basis of a dialectical-materialist unit of analysis (e.g. those 
> changing systems at play in "thought and speech") and the system of 
> activity that the subject participates in.
> 2. The genesis (of the concept?) of the model and its social influence 
> etc, which includes the history of the concept of system.
> With respect to your comment "The unit of analysis suggests the 
> method", I would say, rather, that the awareness of the holistic 
> nature of the activity system and the conceived of sub-systems 
> necessary participation in this configuration affords the method. Or, 
> the problem of modelling this psychological behaviour is facillitated 
> by the appreciation of object-oriented activity as a holistic system.
> I have not had much time to disconfirm the points I have inferred 
> (e.g. I have some Davydov & Ilyenkov, but not much Marx and less 
> Hegel), but have yet to find anything that contradicts this.
> I look forward to your comments!
> Huw
> On 30 July 2013 04:42, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net 
> <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>     So we have 4 distinct but interrelated concepts: system, model,
>     unit of analysis and method.
>     I will try to formulate a view on unit of analysis and method.
>     The idea of "artefact-mediated (collaborative) action" as a unit
>     of analysis (a generalisation of "word meaning") is the basis for
>     the "method of dual stimulation," as I see it.
>     Once you have a concept of that S - X - R triangle, as the unit of
>     action, then it suggests a method of investigation based on
>     offering the auxilliary stimulus, the artifact X, to the subject,
>     S, to assist them to complete the task, R. By varying teh artefact
>     X and the task R, investigation of S is possible.
>     Likewise, let us suppose that you see the mind as a psychological
>     system made up of functional subsystems each of which are
>     interconnected, irrespective of whether the subsystem in question
>     itself produces observable phenomena. This could be represented in
>     a diagram, too, something like S -> Ssys1 ---> Ssys2 -> R, meaning
>     that every subsystem (Ssys1) is connected with every other
>     (Ssys2), and disturbance of Ssys1 will cause a disturbance to
>     Ssys2, which may be manifeted in an observable response, R.
>     So the implication of this is that the "unit of analysis" of an
>     entire psychological system is two functional subsystems with an
>     interconnection.  Ssys1 --- Ssys2.
>     This is not trivial, because much of Ssys1 will not be observable,
>     and this unit of analysis allows the investigator to study Ssys1
>     by means of the observable responses via Ssys2.
>     The unit of analysis suggests the method.
>     Andy